Tag Archives: legislation

It’s Complicated, and We’re Scientifically Illiterate

The Washington Post recently reported on correspondence raising an issue that members of the U.S. Senate should respect, but probably won’t.

A letter was sent by ecologists and climate scientists and was endorsed by 65 other researchers, including a number of leaders of forest science, and by several scientific societies, and pointed out that pending bipartisan (!) energy legislation includes claims that burning trees for energy is carbon neutral–a claim that is scientifically incorrect.

“Legislating scientific facts is never a good idea, but is especially bad when the ‘facts’ are incorrect,” say the researchers, led by Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center. “We urge you and other members of the Senate to reconsider this well-intentioned legislation and eliminate the misrepresentation that forest bioenergy is carbon-neutral.”

The amendment in question was introduced by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine; it has seven cosponsors and urges leaders of the federal government to act in ways that “reflect the carbon neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source.”

Shortly after its passage, a press release by Collins hailed the amendment, which, she said, would “help ensure that federal policies for the use of renewable biomass are clear, simple, and reflect the importance of biomass for our energy future.” The release noted the support of groups including the American Forest and Paper Association and the American Wood Council.

The argument for carbon neutrality–which sounds reasonable–is that, although burning trees emit carbon, trees grow back and when they do, they sequester carbon, making the process neutral.

A key problem, say the scientists, is that it takes a long time for trees to grow back after they’re cut down — and a lot can happen in that span of time.

Here’s the real issue: We elect lawmakers to make policy determinations—determinations that inevitably involve tradeoffs. Those tradeoffs may prove to have been unwise, or based upon faulty information, but that’s the nature of the job.

We don’t, however, elect people to legislate scientific fact. (Indiana’s legislature is still the butt of jokes from a century-old effort to change the value of pi.) It may seem like a picky quibble when Congress is doing so much other damage (Yuuge damage), but when lawmakers triumphantly “demonstrate” the falsity of climate change by throwing  snowballs in the Senate chambers, it’s important.

There is a difference between language claiming that a policy choice is being made based upon scientific consensus, or upon careful consideration of contending scientific opinions, and language that characterizes a conclusion as scientific “fact” And it’s an important difference.

In an era where presidential candidates routinely make colossally untrue statements, when Indiana’s governor can tamper with an “independent” report in order to reflect more desirable “factual” findings, when Michigan’s governor can tell Flint’s citizens that he can assess water quality, you might argue that the mere existence of a bipartisan bill recognizing the importance of cutting carbon emissions should be considered a huge win. I get that.

But I think the real lesson is that respecting the distinction between fact and opinion is for that very reason more important than ever.


And the Beat-em-up Goes On….

What is it with the homophobia?

It’s one thing to believe–based upon a (highly selective) version of the bible–that gay people are immoral. You want to think that, fine. It’s a free country. As I used to say, if you don’t like gay folks, don’t invite any of them to dinner.  Your loss.

Of course, most of these religious warriors aren’t “live and let live” people. So we have weird efforts to hurt the GLBT community by passing legislation that would deny them an equal opportunity to participate in the state specialty license plate program. We are treated to the seriously hateful spectacle of legislators refusing to pass an anti-bullying bill because it might protect gay children.

And now, there seems to be a movement to roll back human rights ordinances around the country.

I find it impossible to understand the animus felt by these people. I do understand not liking someone. I understand disapproving of the policies or tactics of a group of people. I even understand that people who are uncertain of their own sexuality, or unable to deal with social changes, may feel threatened by the emergence of gays from the closet. But for the life of me, I don’t understand people who seem motivated solely by the desire to make the lives of others miserable.

On the other hand, considering just how much time and effort these “Christians” are spending on their campaign to marginalize and demean gay people, maybe they don’t have lives of their own.

THIS is what drives me crazy…

I’m linking to Political Animal for this discussion of David Vitter’s distortions of the pending cap and trade legislation, but not for the particulars of that legislative battle.

This sort of situation–where someone who opposes a proposal totally mischaracterizes it–has become endemic, and the media watchdogs who are supposed to tell us who’s lying aren’t doing so, for a variety of reasons.

I have a short fuse anyway–just ask my husband–and the routine use of outright lies and fabrications in policy debates is driving me up the proverbial wall!